I wish that I had an old set of maps. I didn't think about it until just a moment ago, but probably a lot of you know what I'm talking about, the ones on a tripod that are curling around the edges that are in lot classrooms in the in the Lord's body. And you know, the ones that look so old that we think the apostle Paul used them to navigate through the Mediterranean. Well, you know, those are the ones usually hanging in a classroom. Most people don't ever look at them. And as a result, uh, they see them over there and Bible geography just seems so foreign and strange, and you know, something that you really can't relate to and identify with. And as a result of that, we don't get very excited about it.
Well, hopefully this weekend, I'm going to maybe change your perspective on geography and archeology. Not just for an academic purpose so that we can have more information, but, for the purpose of drawing us closer to God, for allowing us to see how God worked in history and then also to affirm our faith. So that, we can know of a certainty of the things that have been given to us in the pages of God's holy word.
I want us to this morning, start off this series of lessons by talking about God's testing ground of faith.
- Hebrews 11:6
"But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."
I am confident that you're here this morning because you diligently want to seek God. You have faith in God. And yet, all of us need to increase our faith. We need to grow and develop, and our understanding of not only who God is, but of how he worked in human history, that faith comes about as the result of God's word.
And also, by our applying God's word to our life. And as we encounter hardships and difficulties, it can refine our faith as we draw upon the principles of eternal life. As we draw upon the principles of what God tells us about our relationship with him, that makes life all the more meaningful. So this morning, and through the next few days, we're going to be talking about developing our faith.
See the Sermon Slides for Bible Land Passages: A Testing Ground of Faith
See the entire Bible Land Passages Series.
And as we do, I want us to begin by understanding how God developed the faith of his people Israel long, long ago. So as we think about this testing ground of faith, that God put his people Israel into I want us to think about the fact that the Bible is not just history. it is purposeful history for its message teaches us how to live.
Its message is embedded in the everyday lives of people. Most of whom lived in a small area called the land of the Bible, knowing this land makes the Bible message more potent or powerful.
Notice everyday people, the story of the Bible, set in a small parcel of land, just on the Eastern side of the Mediterranean and knowing more about that land, knowing more about the circumstances that God's people lived in is going to make the Bible message that more powerful for us living in the 21st century.
The Land: A Testing Ground of Faith
1) It's Geopolitical Position
So where did God put his people? In this great story of redemption, where did God put his people? He put them in a testing ground of faith. That number one, I want us to understand, two major points this morning is that he put them in a particular position in this land between if we're going to understand the concept of God's testing ground, we need to know that that land, that God put them in was on a land bridge.
God placed them in a land in a position that was a land between.
- A Geopolitical Position: as land between, a land bridge, or highway.
- Isaiah 19:22-25
- Deuteronomy 7:1-4
The Land Bridge
It was literally a land between, and that land between as we'll describe in a minute ,was a very small country.
- A small country about 1/4 the size of the state of Alabama, (12,000 sq. miles)
- From Dan to Beersheba, 150 miles long, Judges 20:21, 1 Sameul 3:10
- 30 to 55 miles wide
And not only that, but as the Bible sometimes describes the extent of the land from Dan to Beersheba. As the crow flies, that's only 150 miles long. So that's just about the amount of land typically that God's people control. We know that it was larger at times under the reign of David and Solomon, but most of the Bible story with regard to God's people inhabited it and settled the land. They only lived in about, from Dan to Sheba, 150 miles, only 30 to 55 miles wide.
It is located on the eastern side of the Mediterranean Sea. To the west is the Italian peninsula sticking in the Mediterranean and the Greek peninsula and Asia minor where modern day Turkey is located. To the southeast is the large Saudi Arabian peninsula. But the Bible story really in that tiny little spot that's called the levant, and is just a word that means the rising of the sun. The Romans described it in that way are the early explorers, because the sun would rise in the east. And so this was a land where the, where the sun would rise, if you were on the Mediterranean.
Now, as we think about where God put his people, you need to remember that to the southwest, are the great dynasties or empires of Egypt. And then, over to the northeast is the region of the Mesopotamia. Literally, that word means the land between the rivers, between the Tigris and Euphrates river. There was this Fertile Crescent of where civilization began and where it developed.
And it is then, between those two areas, that there was a highway, an international highway, where the great empires of Mesopotamia, like Assyria and Babylon and the Medo-Persians would move down into the levant. And then those of Egypt would come up into the levant to push back those other countries.
And here is little Israel wedged, right between those huge world powers. In the west is the Mediterranean and on the east is the desert. So if you're an empire in Mesopotamia you're not going to travel and bring your armies through the desert. By ship in this day and age was going to be a costly and difficult experience. So you marched them through, on land in this little section here to push back the Egyptians. The Egyptians wanted to push back these empires, and also gain control of the trade here. So you've got what we call a land bridge.
A land bridge. Isn't that interesting that that's where God placed His people?
"Security and peace are not characteristics of a land of the Bible. The north was under the shadow of imperial invasion, and highways in the west were common military objectives. Marauders from the south and east posed a threat to settle populations and to the commerce. When empires retreated, local nations fought bitterly in order to control the lands highways. Periods of peace and security were few, short, and far between."
Local nations, like the Ammonites and Jebusites that had, Jerusalem for a while. And then, people like the Moabites and the Edomites and the Philistines, all those local smaller nations, when the larger empowers retreated, the smaller local nations were also at war with God's people to control the agriculture and the trade routes through there.
Now when you read the stories, in the Bible, especially in Kings and Chronicles, first and second Samuel, you need to remember that, especially as we progress through the text and see what God told them not to do.
God's Commands Concerning the Geopolitical Land
God tells his people Israel, what not to do when they come into the land.
The book of Deuteronomy was written near the end of the 40 year period of wilderness wanderings. God's people had been brought out of Egypt. They didn't have enough faith to take the land. Only two people, Joshua and Caleb had enough faith, and the rest did not. So God waited until that generation faded away and a new generation would come along. Forty years has passed and it's time to go take the promised land.
And God says, now when you come into this land, and He describes many things in the book of Deuteronomy about what to do and what not to do. I like to think of it as an application of the law given in the book of Exodus, here's how to apply. Here's what you're going to do, take houses that you did not build and vineyards that you did not plant.
And when you come into this land, to Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, I want you to do the cursings and the blessings there in the middle of the land and remind the brethren, what they were to do and not to do. One specific commandment is mentioned here in Deuteronomy seven.
- Deuteronomy 7:1-4
All right now, very important, don't form coalitions. Don't form treaties, with these larger nations or even these smaller nations, especially mentioned here. Can you tell me why the people of Israel when they came into this land would be tempted to form a league of nations? Based on what I just showed you geographically, why would they be tempted?
What do we say about the Bible lands? It's a highway and it's very small. They're this small country on this major highway. And there are larger empires around them and smaller nations around them.
And, you know, think about what's happening in the Ukraine right now. They're desperately seeking other nations to help them against this larger nation of Russia. They're trying to form coalitions and leagues. It only makes sense from a human standpoint. Doesn't it? From human wisdom to say, we need to get some help because we're small and we can't defend ourselves against the bigger nations.
Now God's going to put his people right there in this small little parcel of land and say don't form coalitions, don't form covenants leagues. And why would they be tempted? Why would God say don't intermarry? What happens? If you know your English history, what happened when a nation binds an greement between another nation in Europe? Somebody would give their daughter to marry the prince. Right? See you marry and your children get married, and now that forms a tighter bond between these nations and you're a little less likely to want to really say anything bad or do anything bad about those other nations.
So this had to do with political issues, with survival, with distinction. God says, be careful about that and don't do it. Israel is going to struggle with that. They're going to struggle with that.
- 2 Chronicles 14
This is one among many examples of where Israel at one point would trust in what God said, and then later on they would not. One that really stands out here is a man by the name of Asa.
Asa, as a king in the southern portion of Judah. Remember Israel had split after the death of Solomon and the story of Jeroboam and Rehoboam. And in the south, there was a series of kings and in the north, there was a series of kings.
- Northern Kingdom - Jeroboam (930-909 BC)
- Baasha (908 - 886 BC)
- Southern Kingdom - Rehoboam (930-913 BC)
- Asa (910-869 BC)
So Judah, the primary tribe in the south had a king and their capital was in Jerusalem. And a man by the name of Asa came to the throne. And at the same time, as we're going to see it a little later on a man by the name of Baasha was on the throne in the north.
- 2 Chronicles 14:9-11
Notice what Asa does, all the way from Egypt, a mighty strong force is coming up into their territory. See they're the Ukraine or the ancient world. They're small and they might be tempted to go to maybe the Moabites or the Edomites, or especially the people of Syria in the north, Where they were pretty big, not as big as Assyria, but in this instance, what does Asa do?
He says, look, we're a small, what are we going to do? What do we do in difficult circumstances? When we feel so overwhelmed? Like Asa did, what was the texts that he did? He cried to the Lord, God, help us.
And guess what? They won a huge battle against a huge army though they were very small. That doesn't surprise me because that's been going on in God's history and his redemptive plan for many years.
You remember David fighting a huge giant Goliath?
These places remind us that these stories take place in a real place. And in a real time, you can visit these places, today. The area of Mareshah is an area known as the shfela or the lowly, humble foothills, going up to the mountains of Judea. And in this Shfela, Zerah the Ethiopian had come from the north moving down to the south. And Asa took his army, and somewhere around these hills, that battle took place.
In the remains of Mareshah, archeologists have been digging down in this ancient tel for quite some time. And have found a number of civilizations dating to the Bible times and even after. So Mareshah is a real place.
- 2 Chronicles 14:12-15
So this town, Gerar, is mentioned. Does that town exists? Yes. Here is the Naha Gerar near Ziglag. And Ziglag is another place that is mentioned in scripture. And there's a, there's an ancient tel out there called Tel Sera, which many people identify as the city of Ziglag. That was the city, by the way, that the Philistine, king had given to David as a city for him to live in, when he was on the run from Saul.
So, during this divided kingdom period, we find Asa trusting in God and not forming coalitions.
The sad part of this story is he didn't always follow through.
- 2 Chronicles 16
Asa has been on the throne for a long time. Now God blessed him. He trusted in God, early on in his monarchy. But then something happened, a man in the north who was the king over the Northern 10 tribes. A king by the name of Baasha began to encroach upon a territory that belonged to Judah in the old Benjamite territory. And that was important for David to have captured years ago and Jerusalem in that area, because that's an important crossroads of trade and agriculture.
And so what happens is, is that Baasha says, I want that crossroad of trade. I want to come down here and build a city there. So Baasha encroaches on Judah's territory and king Asa is concerned about. So, what does he do?
He goes up to meet Baasha, but then in the process, he talks to king Ben Hadad of aram, or what we would refer to as Syria of Damascus, any forms, guess what? A coalition. He forms a league with Syria.
- 2 Chronicles 16:1-7
That is the background of what's happening. So when we turn to second Chronicles and, uh, take a look at verse seven, all right, well, let's start actually in verse one bet. In the 36th year of the reign of AC Basha king of Israel, went up against Judah and built Ramah that he might permit no one to go out or.
Asa is violating Deuteronomy 7.
Interestingly enough, Asa does keep him out of that territory, but God gave him an opportunity to also rid Judah and even Israel of the threat of Syria. And as a result, it didn't happen.
Brethren, there is a powerful lesson here about God working in history and an application for our own day and age. Sometimes when we are struggling with life, and we are outnumbered and we're afraid we, we call out to God and he helps us.
Maybe as we get older and we get a little wiser with our own experiences and, uh, the things that we've learned. After a while we think we can figure it out on our own, and I don't want to bother God with that. Or, maybe he just even forget about talking to God and humbling ourselves. And, our heart gets turned away and we become puffed up with pride. We need to take a lesson from the story of Asa and remember that no matter where we are in life and no matter what we encounter, we must always be obedient to God and trust in his plan and not rely on our own human wisdom. But rather, the wisdom that comes from God.
Asa could have had so much more. Yes, he did a good job of working in his territory. But, He said, wars can stop forever for your people right here. I can cease this time of war. But, because you didn't listen, because you relied on the king of Syria, problems are going to continue.
Over and over again, throughout the pages of God's word, you're going to see this story play out.
- Nebi Samuel
And so the story continues between King Pekah and King Rezin of Aram. These things played out in Isaiah 7 and Isaiah 30.
- Isaiah 7:1-8
- Isaiah 30:1-2
- Isaiah 31:1-3
These kings ended up, in the book of Isaiah we see, trusting in Egypt for their salvation.
So time and time again, God's people were tempted to form these leagues, these coalitions with larger and even the smaller nations. But God said, trust me, I know it may not seem that you're going to as a small nation be able to defeat them. But, if you'll turn to me, if you'll cry out to me, you can accomplish great things.
Sometimes we feel very small as a congregation of God's people in a world that is becoming more and more anti-Christian. And yet, the Oak Grove church of Christ can accomplish great things. If it will rely upon the wisdom of God and trust in what God says, and to do things in the way that God said to do them.
We look at all the, the groups around us, they're doing this and doing that in order to get masses of people, and we [think] need to change our doctrine. No, we need to remain faithful to what God has revealed. Sure,we can maybe think about a different approach trying to reach people and so forth, but what we teach, and who we, are must never change. We must trust in God's plan though we are a small spiritual nation.
2) The Land: A Testing Ground of Faith: It's Climate
God put his people Israel in this testing ground of faith, not only in terms of its geopolitical position as a land bridge, but also in terms of its climate.
A Land Dependent Upon God
- Exodus 3:8
- Deuteronomy 11:8-17
God says, when you come into this land, it's not like the land that you once lived in, in Egypt where you could water it with your foot as a garden of herbs. But the land you're coming into drinks, the water from heaven above it, it runs off quickly. And this land, the Lord, God, his eyes are over. But if you'll trust me and you don't serve other gods, I'm going to give you the early rain and the latter rain. There are two rainy seasons even today in Israel. And if you miss one of those rainy seasons and there's a drought, you're in big trouble. But God says, if you serve me, I'll give you that rain.
That's going to bring fertility to the ground and the crops you need in order to survive.
An Agricultural Society
Israel was an agricultural society. When you read through the pages of God's word about this land, being a land flowing with milk and honey, God was saying, it's a land of opportunity agriculturally. You can actually grow a lot of things there. You need the rain in order to do it, [God says,] I'll supply that you. And, it will be a fruitful area.
A lot of people, when they think of Israel, they think of only a desert place. But in the north, near Dan, there are springs where the snow from Mount Hermon melts and creates a number of springs that eventually formed the headwaters are the headwaters of the Jordan river.
- Dan, springs from the melting snow of Mount Hermon
- Jezreel Valle, Mount Morel whtere the soil is fertile and 300 feet thick
- Mount Tabor, olive trees produce oil for cooking, medicinal purposes, to eat, and oil for lamps
- Mountain Gilboa, an are in the Golan area and Lebanon area,ich with grass
- Southern part where there is less rain, there's an opportunity for growing wheat.
- Date palms can be grown in the desert, Jericho
- Citrus trees
- a land of cucumbers
It's a land of opportunity. But now God says, when you come, you need to know something. The land that you came from had the Nile River, and that now river would flood every year into the Nile Delta, the Delta region over there and replenish the soil. So this flood would come and, and, uh, would bring new nutrients to the soil and the water that formed down there could literally be maneuvered.
And canals with just the pushing of a paddle with your foot, easy to dig. So the land where God's people once led was a land of plenty in the now Goshen area. He said the land that you're leaving or coming to is not like this land, but instead the land where you're going, look here is a land that drinks the water.
It runs off of. The mountains in the central spine area and goes down into these watties and out to the seas. So it doesn't just pool in areas and collect and stay there in marshy areas. They had to capture the water when it rained and they wanted the water to fall just right. They couldn't miss a rainy season.
So in this area today, it can be very dry. But you can grow things. Nevertheless, on the sides of these Hills, you get to work, you get busy on the sides of these Hills, building these terrorist farms, uh, and our farm land. You can grow all the trees and you can even in the Rocky soil, plant some wonderful things like wheat and grapes and all the trees.
The land of Israel is in what we call the semi arid climate to the north. It's tropical to the south. It's dry. It's right on this transitional zone. It may rain. It may not rank, but God says, I'm going to give you the rain. If you'll serve me, I'm going to give it to you early rain in the latter rain.
It'll be just as consistent. And it'll be there. If you search. But if you turn from me and serve other gods, then I will close up the windows of heaven. That there'd be no rain. That there'd be no grass that would then feed your cattle and water. Your fields don't serve other gods. Well, guess what? In first Kings chapter 16, we are reminded of the story of a life.
And we're reminded of the story of king Ahab as first bill second, what did king Ahab do? His wife had got him to serve, look at this, the Canaanite storm, God named what bale. In ancient inscriptions bale is known as the God of fertility, the God of rain who holds in his hand, a Sceptre of a lightning bolt.
And God's people began to rely upon the God of the Canaanites who brought water in Cod said there is no such God. And so a drought came to the. And for years they had no water except for what they had stored in some old systems underground. It was a difficult time in the life of God's people, Israel, because they disobeyed his command and they trusted in pagan theology as opposed to understanding the one.
True God, it's a lesson for all of us. Don't rely again upon our own human wisdom. We're walking through a testing ground of faith, even now, will we do what God says? Even when it may not make sense to us? We don't always understand it, but God will bless us if we trust in him.
— John Moore, Director of Bible Land Passages and Bible Passages.